After working in the IT field for more than 17 years, Swoyambar Khadka decided he had had enough. He had burned out completely, lost all passion for his job.
He wanted to enter an entirely new line of work.
“After much pondering, I decided to get into farming. It was a tough call,” Khadka says. His family immediately shot down his decision. His friends thought he was squandering his budding IT career.
Khadka was determined to take a break from IT, but the disapproval of his friends and family was not helping. “I really needed a break from it all. So I went to Dubai, where I stayed for two years,” he says.
After returning from Dubai, Khadka got into organic farming. He started growing crops without using chemical fertilizers, at a time the organic food market was still in its infancy in Nepal.
Khadka’s venture took off. His niche market strategy was right on the money.
“The customers came because the produce I sold looked and tasted different. More important, they were healthy,” he says.
But Khadka found organic farming a demanding task, requiring lots of time and commitment. He wanted to grow something that was less taxing and had quick turnover. He did some research, which led him to shiitake mushrooms
“I studied papers and journals written on shiitake mushrooms,” Khadka says. “I learned these mushrooms were fairly easy to grow, low maintenance and the fruiting period lasted for nearly five years.’
Khadka started growing shiitake mushrooms on 150 logs. He began to scale up as the demand started growing. From 150 logs, it was 1,000, then 5,000 and 20,000 logs.
These days a kilogram of shiitake mushrooms goes for around Rs 1,000. A bit pricey, one might argue, but Khadka insists the price is worth it.
“I’ve had this argument in the past, people telling me that they can get 1kg of mutton for the price. I tell them that unlike mutton, a kg of shiitake curry can serve a family of six for two meals,” he says. “Then there are also the health benefits of eating shiitake.”
Khadka has become an expert on shiitake mushrooms after years of farming and self-study. He now shares his knowledge with those who want to get into the business.
In fact, he is currently on a year-long mission to teach people about shiitake mushroom farming. In order to do so, Khadka has deployed his army of students—he now also teaches IT-related courses as a side job—to popularize shiitake farming through social media and other digital marketing tools.
It is Khadka’s dream to take the shiitake mushroom farming to the remotest parts of the country so that some of the hundreds of thousands of Nepali youths who now have to head abroad for menial labor jobs can be persuaded to try their luck in their own country.
“I have been teaching people how to grow, harvest and market this thing,” he says. “If even some of them use my teaching to start their own businesses, my efforts would have been worth it.”